It’s a hallmark of every political campaign, no matter what the party, no matter what the time, that the next government is Going To Create Jobs. It’s been a hallmark of campaigns ever since the Company Vote was removed in time for the 1967 election (it was still around in 1962, Universal Suffrage notwithstanding; it was a benefit of the 1964 Constitution, which made Roland Symonette our first Premier. History is important.) When you’ve got One (Wo)Man, One Vote, it appears to be imperative to getting elected.
Well, fine. I’m not going to argue with that. I’m not a politician, after all. I don’t have to please all the people all of the time (thank the good Lord above).
It seems to me that the Creation of Jobs, this thing that every government or prospective government seems to imagine that it’s bound by divine decree to do, could be a little better thought out.
You see, the country has changed a bit since 1967, when jobs first leapt to the head of the campaign agenda. In 1967, the majority of the people were both underemployed and undereducated. The two went hand in hand, on the basis that it was cruel to train people to fill positions that were unavailable to them. Thirty years ago, it was easy to Create Jobs. All that had to be done was remove the barriers to the jobs that already existed, and create opportunities for more. Black Bahamians, once relegated to being teachers and nurses and servants, civil and otherwise, could suddenly move into jobs such as lawyers and doctors and bankers and accountants.
But there was an educational gap to be bridged. While those of us who were born into a free Bahamas could aspire to become doctors and lawyers and the like, our parents and older siblings were recipients of a relatively rudimentary education. They, too, had to be employed; after all, they had to help us get our educations. And so opening of a great job market in tourism and construction that enabled the generation before ours to earn the kind of money that would sow the seeds of the new middle class.
So it was understandable in 1968 and 1972 and even in 1977 that the Creation of Jobs focussed on the creation of employment that offered relatively good pay for relatively low educations. Today, however, we live in a considerably different world. The generations educated on the tourist and the builder’s dollar are the first generations to be raised in middle classes. It is our children for whom jobs in 2005 are to be provided.
Yet although the society has changed, our governments’ philosophy on jobs has not. The Creation of Jobs still implies jobs in construction, in the tourist industry, and in (Lord help us) the not-so-civil service.
There’s a major problem with this. It’s that middle class parents raise middle class children. The aspirations of these children go far beyond construction, the tourist industry, or even the civil Service. And yet Job Creation seems to continue to run in the rut it’s dug for itself over the transitional first thirty years of our independence.
Now it’s perfectly true that there’s very little need for the government to invest in the creation of jobs in middle class professions. After all, there are more than enough doctors, lawyers, accountants and bankers to go around, especially in New Providence. And there’s the very good argument that it’s not the responsibility of any government to create jobs for its people.
But let’s just look at our society a minute. We’ve got thousands of students graduating from high school, when thirty years ago most people had only a grammar school education. We’ve got a slate of professions, most of them middle-class stepping stones to upperclassdom, that are full to bursting with people in my generation and the generations that follow. We’ve got a nation full of people who regard working in construction or government or hotels as something to fall back upon when one’s dreams don’t work out. And we’ve got the generosity of foreign investors, creating thousands of jobs in these fall-back areas. Our Job Creation plans create jobs all right; but more and more, the people who’re being hired are immigrants, legal and otherwise.
And we’ve got no creative or intellectual industries to speak of at all.
This is very odd, considering the fact that, according to recent economic research in the Caribbean and Latin American region, the most stable economic sector is the cultural sector. Film, television, music production, fashion, the literary arts, publishing, crafts, the visual arts, the performing arts, the media, the folkloric and historic arts, the festival arts â€” these are the areas that not only remain stable in times of economic downturn, but that sometimes even grow during recessions. The cultural sector accounts for at least 7% of the total revenue of the USA (Hollywood, the television networks, the cable networks and Broadway are included; if one were to count fashion, architecture, and the advertising arts, the figure might go up). In Barbados, the cultural sector is responsible for generating an economic turnover of almost $50 million US every year, and employs thousands of small craftsmen, artists, calypsonians and the like.
But wait. We’re the ones with five million tourist arrivals a year. Why are we still talking about Jobs as though only construction and the hotel industry count?
It’s time, I believe, to shift the paradigm when it comes to Job Creation. It’s time a government realized that the model we’ve been using is benefiting immigrants, whether they be the legal ones we welcome with open arms and label Foreign Investors, or the illegal ones we repudiate while making use of their cheap labour, more than it’s benefiting us. It’s time we started investing in the kinds of industries our middle-class children will want to work in, and stop recycling the models of our past.